Toilet Ek Prem Katha movie review: A decent idea flushed down the crapper
If you want to experience a paisa vasool recliner experience where you can peacefully sleep, look no further. At 2 hours 35 minutes, and with the premise better suited for a short film, Toilet: Ek Prem Katha is a literal snoozefest.
The film means well, one can argue. Keshav (Akshay Kumar) and Jaya's (Bhumi Pednekar) love story's villain, as the film tells us, is sakshaat shauch . Jaya comes from a relatively progressive family, one which encouraged her to study and top her class.
Never having known another way, Jaya expects Keshav's home to have a toilet, much like her own. It's only the morning after their suhag-raat that she learns she must sneak past the village men before the day breaks, with all the other women in the village, and head to the fields for nature's call.
Akshay Kumar and Bhumi Pednekar have acted well in their respective roles. In fact, most of the star cast have, especially Divyendu Sharma as Keshav's best friend. If only acting could save this excruciatingly long and fairly problematic film.
Blame the women
Jaya's insistence for a toilet comes in direct conflict with Keshav's janevu-dhari Bauji's (Sudhir Pandey) religious beliefs. In one scene, Bauji takes a dirt road to avoid a black cat and ends up flashing his bike's headlights at Jaya as she's desperately trying to relieve herself.
The embarrassment, coupled with a flippant comment from Bauji about how she at least managed to cover her face, is the central conflict in this film. If only it could stick to that. In fact, one song lyric goes, ' Ghoonghat khencho pet tak, baitho sari uthakar,' highlighting the horrible double standards women must live with in Indian villages. (Pull your veil down till your stomach, pick up your saree and squat.)
Except, director Shree Narayan Singh couldn't keep the social commentary up without preaching. The film not only preaches through melodrama and dialogue baazi, but it also succeeds in blaming women and absolving the government of the lack of toilets in India.
That's right, the film repeatedly shows that toilets don't exist in this village near Mathura because the women take great pride in their 'lota party'. At one point, Jaya's father lectures her mother for failing to protect her and tells his wife that women are their own worst enemies.
Jaya too behaves like an entitled brat when she storms out of her maika gates to scream her head off at less privileged women walking back with their lotas. One of them even points out that her maika doesn't have a toilet like Jaya's. Jaya's response? “Inhi loton se paani pila do apne mardon ko, phir dekhte hai kya kalesh machta hai. ” (Have your husbands drink water out of these lotas, then witness the disaster that follows)
A long ad
While on one hand blaming the disadvantaged ghunghat-clad woman for her circumstances, the film repeatedly asserts that the Indian government is giving its all to the Swachh Bharat Mission.
It even has a UP Chief Minister acknowledge the need for toilets in villages. To speed things up, he proposes that toilets in all government offices be locked for a week, just to make a point.
Then, in true government ad fashion, he says, “Agar humare Pradhan Mantri ji logo ki bhalai ke liye notebandi karwa sakte hai, hum shauchalay kyun nahi ba n dh karwa sakte?” (If our PM can stop notes/demonetise currency, why can't we stop entry into toilets)
From Ebay packages to this dialogue, at least the film gets its product placements right. Advertising though, is better suited for the regular less-than-a-minute video format. Maybe Shree Narayan Singh should consider that alternative the next time.
The film's core message, therefore, instead of being a positive one to bring change, is that Indian women must fight for a toilet or die (for how many Indian women will actually survive demanding a divorce?). And no one should blame the Indian government, at all. Okay then.
Should you watch it?
Maybe the first half, if you have nothing better to do. It's a film in itself.